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Here’s what to read to understand why babies got herpes from circumcisions.

“Metzitzah b’peh” is a circumcision rite in which the circumciser, or mohel, cleans the wound where the infant’s foreskin was removed by sucking it with his mouth. The practice is conducted mainly in the Haredi Jewish community, and periodically causes infants to contract a form of herpes that is found in adult saliva.

In New York City, which has the country’s largest Jewish and largest ultra-Orthodox population, the ritual is controversial but still sometimes done. In the last six months, four babies got herpes as a result, although all are recovering after receiving antiviral drugs in the hospital, according to JTA.

This piece explains the origins of the rite, which goes back to biblical times.

One mother explains in this op-ed why she had it done to her son.

Public health officials in New York City have tried to grapple with it. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, parents had to sign a consent form before the ritual. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, that regulation was repealed, in favor of a new policy that would try to ban mohels who transmitted herpes to infants. Some ethicists concluded that New York City did not establish a sufficiently strong case to warrant regulating the practice.

Contact Helen Chernikoff is The Forward’s senior news editor. Contact her at or follower her on Twitter @thesimplechild




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